I’ll bet you’re thinking this is about Elvis.
It’s not, but rest assured that his 1962 hit “Return to Sender” is now stuck in my head, too.
As Brian and I were hauling my Christmas decor out of the garage and into the house, I spotted the back of a sealed envelope on the floor and wondered what it was. From year to year, I try to keep the Christmas cards that I receive in the mail. It just makes it easier to keep track of addresses and to be sure that I’m not forgetting someone who might’ve been so kind as to have remembered me.
But then… why was it still sealed?
As I picked it up and turned it over, I realized.
Oh. Oh yeah, that’s because I chose not to open this one.
This was no Christmas card.
Brian saw the card in my hand, my disappointed face and piped up, “I wish you’d throw that away.”
But for some reason… I don’t know, I like to keep it as a reminder that I tried.
You see, this was the last contact that I had with my dad. It feels like it’s been decades, but as the stamp states, this was in February of 2009, just shy of five years ago.
At my salon, we’re very big into celebrating birthdays. It makes it fun to come to work. All day long, enshrouded by balloons and crazy birthday themes, clients and coworkers alike are sing-songing their happy birthdays. Every once in a while you see flowers or the ever-coveted Edible Arrangements delivered and, yet again, it’s an exciting, public display of birthday acknowledgement.
So back in 2009, I thought that I’d surprise my dad by sending his birthday card to work. I had imagined that perhaps he’d try to let his birthday slip by unnoticed, but that whoever delivered his piece of mail would discover the occasion and wish him a happy birthday.
Okay, just being honest here, this was a hard card to pick out. Have you ever tried to find a card for someone whom you don’t exactly admire? As I’ve mentioned before (here), my dad wouldn’t have even scored honorable mention in parenting. No, more like a ribbon for participating and that’s it. He left a lot to be desired. And given my propensity for the truth, word choice on these cards was relatively important to me. So, no, I wasn’t going to send some “Happy-Birthday-to-the-Best-Father-that-ever-Existed” nonsense. But, yes, I was going to acknowledge him and wish him well. I recall spending a lot of time at that store as it wasn’t exactly easy finding something that wasn’t overly complimentary.
Then I took a few minutes to personalize my sentiments a bit, trying to be more intentional, sending more than my signature.
But a few days later, I received the whole letter back in my mailbox. At the time, I completely melted down, utterly crumpling under the rejection (yet again). First of all, it was unopened. (Talk about feeling worthless!) Secondly, as I looked a little closer, I realized that my dad had originally written his dramatic “RETURN TO SENDER” in gray marker. Evidently that was too subtle, so he carefully overlaid his message with a bolder, black marker.
What a jerk thing to do.
Why would a father return a birthday card to his daughter? There are any number of reasons. He’s a fairly paranoid man with incredibly unrealistic relational demands, so I imagine I “crossed a line” by not mailing this to his home address.
(Not exactly the type of unconditional relationship for which one would find worth fighting, right?)
This envelope has wandered all around my house for almost five years. I don’t remember exactly what sent it to the garage, but here it is again. I thought that while I was writing this, I could open the envelope in front of you, my readers, and reflect on the contents therein.
Happy Birthday, Dad.
I’ll always be your princess.
I sure hope you’re doing well. It’s been a while since I’ve heard from you. I enjoyed Superbowl Sunday with your side of the family. The day was almost perfect except that you weren’t there. Please stay a part of my life. It would be good to see you more often. I love you!
Suzanna Banana Boat
Yep, that sounds like me. (He gave me that nickname.) To this day, unless his brothers or sister have told him, I’m not even sure if my dad knows that Bennett even exists. Rest assured, my face is quite dry right now. No tears. Just acceptance. The Lord has been so good, so merciful and so generous to us that in spite of the fact that Bennett doesn’t “have” this particular grandfather, this child will know no lack of love thanks to everyone else in his life.
We are so loved and I am so grateful.
In 19 days, I’ll be mentally acknowledging the 25th anniversary of the day that my dad walked out on our family. To this day, those actions still confound me. What a sobering reminder that our personal decisions create giant ripple effects in the hearts of those around us! Be prayerful, be cautious and pursue holiness! Let us outdo one another in love!